Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Diane Arbus: The Simplicity of Photography

Diane Arbus, A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street , N.Y.C. 1966 1966
Copyright © 1971 The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC
National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through the d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and The Art Fund 2008.

Photography is a simple process, consisting, in essence, of little more than the careful aiming of a light tight box and perhaps the judicious twiddling of a few knobs. In theory at least everyone possesses the capacity to make a photograph and it is the mark of our time that almost everyone does. So why then have we singled out and celebrated the work of Diane Arbus from the tsunami of images that engulfs us each day? She famously said 'For me the subject is always more important than the picture and more complicated'. Indeed Arbus seemed to use her camera not so much as a sophisticated paint brush but more as a jemmy to prise her way into the souls of her sitters. Her dogged adherence to this unconventional approach engendered work that displays a raw fragility and directness that shines bright and hard like a firefly in our image rich but truth poor society. Having worked for many years in fashion she was well versed in the art of manufacturing superficial glamour but why then should she chose to flee to the periphery of human experience? perhaps on these outskirts she found that all pretense could be stripped away. 'Giving a camera to Diane Arbus' said Norman Mailer ' is like putting a live hand grenade in the hands of a child'. He was right; Diane Arbus was a complicated human being who through the simplicity of photography found answers in places most of us would not even dare to look.

Diane Arbus, which comprises 69 black and white photographs will be on display at the National Museum Cardiff until 31 August 2009.

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